How to Harvest Basil

Herb gardens are a great way to work out your green thumb and add fresh flavors to your home-cooked dishes. Basil is an easy plant to harvest and with so many leaves, you'll be inspired to cook fresh meals every day. Follow the steps below to grow and harvest basil.

  1. Decide what variety of basil you want to grow. Pay attention to your location's climate and choose the most appropriate strain. Also consider what you want to use the basil for most. Genovese basil -- a strain with dark green leaves -- is best for pesto. Sweet Greek basil is better for salads [source: Ward].
  2. If you're starting from seeds or if temperatures are near freezing at night, plant your basil in pots that can stay indoors. Basil plants can't tolerate the cold, and a frost will kill them. Place the pots in a spot that will receive a lot of sunlight and warmth [source: Ward].
  3. When the weather is warm, you can transplant the basil to a spot outside with well-drained soil and lots of sun exposure. Water the plants daily, or as often as needed to keep the soil moist. By mid-summer you should have a basil plant that's ready to be harvested [source: Day].
  4. The optimum time for harvesting basil leaves is when they're a medium size (very large leaves might have lost their flavor already) and the plant is at least 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 centimeters) tall [source: Seeley]. If you want to take just a little bit of basil, harvest it by clipping, not pulling, medium to large leaves off of the stem. If you want to harvest a lot of basil, clip the stem itself up to a third of the way from the top of the plant [source: Day]. The basil will continue growing after being harvested.

Before the first frost, cut the stems down to the bottom and pick all the leaves off to use or freeze right away [source: Day]. Because basil is an annual, if the roots are not damaged during the winter, the plant will sprout again next spring.